By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A small plane en route to an FAA safety conference crashed into a house in a modest Jackson neighborhood late Tuesday, killing all three pilots aboard, authorities said. A resident of the home escaped with minor injuries.
The Piper PA-32 single-engine plane had just taken off from the Hawkins Field Airport when it began to falter. A police officer who saw the plane go down said it was sputtering as if out of fuel, and the plane's owner said it struck several trees as it went down.
Large flames and black smoke rose about 50 feet from the house that was hit, according to witnesses in the neighborhood of single-family homes surrounded by big magnolia and oak trees.
A deputy fire chief told WJTV-TV that one person escaped the burning home with minor injuries, but it was not immediately clear if anyone else was inside. One patient from the scene was in good condition at University of Mississippi Medical Center, said spokesman Jack Mazurak. He wouldn't give the person's name or gender or the extent of the injuries, citing privacy laws.
Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart confirmed three people died in the crash. She said dental records or DNA would be needed to confirm their identities and that the identities would not be confirmed Tuesday night.
The plane was owned by Roger and Michele Latham, from Superior Pallet Company in Flowood, Miss., both of whom showed up at the crash site, along with their grown daughter, Emily Latham.
Emily Latham noted that her father was supposed to have been on board but changed his plans.
“He went hunting,” she said. “Thank God.”
Michele Latham said all three men on board were pilots. Roger Latham, who is 15 hours short of getting his pilot's license, identified one of the victims as John Edward Tilton Jr., his flight instructor.
“He was one of the finest Christian men I knew,” Latham said.
Authorities did not identify the other two people aboard the plane.
“We had three great men who lost their lives,” he added. “I just want to wake up in a while and say, 'This didn't happen.'”
The plane had just departed Hawkins Field Airport headed for Raymond, Miss., for an FAA safety conference, just 25 miles away. Latham said his plane had been parked in a hangar for a month and they wanted to take it out for a short flight before he flew it to Gulf Shores, Ala., for Thanksgiving. Latham said he had owned the plane for 2 1/2 years and described it as being in mint condition.
The plane took off at 5:10 p.m. and shortly after, the pilot asked for permission to return to the airport, according to a news release issued by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. The plane was unable to return and crashed.
Latham said a Jackson police officer who was about a block away when the plane was coming down told him “it was spitting and sputtering and … starving for fuel.”
It hit trees on the way down, Latham said, adding, “I'm sure John was doing everything he possibly could to save the lives on board.”
Vivian Payne, who lives about six blocks from the crash site, said she heard a loud bang that sounded different from an electrical transformer blowing.
“It shook the walls of my house,” Payne said as she stood among ambulances, police cars and fire trucks, their lights flashing in the chilly night air.
The weather in Jackson is partly cloudy in the 40s.
The National Transportation Safety Board along with the FAA will be investigating the cause of the crash.
Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr contributed to this report.
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